Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Season of Giving

What's on the mind of a teen or young person?  What do they think about most days?  Is it school and making good grades?  Is it doing all the things your parents want?  Is it hanging out with friends and making new friends?  Is it securing that wanted job or internship?  Is it being the best at your sport of choice?  Is it how to handle stress and worry?  Is it how you could give back to someone or someplace less fortunate than you?  It could be a number of things.  One thing I have learned is that there is always something on the minds of teens and young people.  They are constant thinkers and constant observers.

Giving is something I don't believe teens receive enough credit.  I think "giving" is on their minds more than the adults in their lives realize.  I think the spirit of their giving gets lost in their dress, attitude, behavior and demeanor.  Sometimes the adults forget that the dress, attitude, behavior and demeanor generally reflects normal adolescent behavior and has no bearing on the giving nature of teenagers and young people.  There seems to be lots of talk about how teens are takers and not givers.  Talk about how they always seem to want something of personal benefit and resist listening to reason or compromise.  Talk about how they always seem to engage in selfish behavior. 

I don't believe there is enough talk about how giving teens and young people are in their actions and behaviors.  Spending time with a sick friend, either at home or in the hopital.  Spending time with a friend who may be experiencing challenges at home with a parent or other family members.  Spending time volunteering for an important cause, like a homeless shelter, soup kitchen or nursing home.  Spending time organizing clubs and activities which are of benefit to fellow students.  Spending time decorating the school building with holiday cheer.  Spending time exchanging cards and gifts to spread goodwill.  These are a few examples of deeds of teens who give for the positive benefit of another.  We, the adults in their lives, could probably do a better job of recognizing this spirit within our children.  We could probably do a better job of focusing more on the good that is being spread. 

This month of December is a time when society is reminded to give back in the spirit of the season.  No matter your personal beliefs, religious beliefs or otherwise, it is always a great time to "spread the good".  A good time to do for someone else.  A good time to experience the joy of "giving back".  A good time to share with others.  So, in this season of giving, may our teens continue to recognize the good in themselves and others and spread the spirit of this season of giving.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Break-up

The break-up.  I believe it was a movie starring actors Jennifer Anniston and Vince Vaughn and it's all about what they experience with each other as they end their relationship.  I found it to be an entertaining flick, but that movie is not what I am referring to in this piece.  The break-up here refers to when teens who were once "in love" decide that they are no longer "in love" and thus break-up or stop going out or stop hooking up.  For the female teen she wonders if she was pretty enough, if she was skinny enough, if she was popular enough, if her hair was long enough.  For the male teen he wonders if he was handsome enough, if he had the right muscles in the right places, if he had the right moves on the dance floor, if he had the right clothes or if he had enough money to "flash around". 

The break-up can be devastating for many teens and young people.  They feel as if the world, as they perceive it, is coming to an end.  Life, as they perceive it, will not get better.  What to do?  How to react?  What to say?  How to respond to that person that is no longer the boyfriend or girlfriend?  Do you speak when you see him or her in the hallway or at the party?  Will he or she tell some secret that you shared when you were "in love"?  That feeling that you will never meet someone else who you will like or love, that you don't want to talk to anyone else on the phone or that you don't want to hang out with friends, go to parties or even concentrate in school.  The first feeling of being in love, the first hug or the first kiss are all memorable moments for a teen, moments that will be recalled for years to come.  Falling in love as a teenager can bring overwhelming feelings that sometimes no one else matters, not family, not friends and at times, not even the individual.  You want to spend all your time talking to or being with that special person, that boyfriend or that girlfriend.  You are positive you will never feel this way about anyone again.

Part of being a teenager is learning to manage relationships and that includes boyfriend/girlfriend relationships.  Spending time with someone and getting to know them and sharing experiences are all part of growing up.  Teens like to spend time with others their age.  They like to have a boyfriend or girlfriend, someone they can talk about to friends, family and foes.  It's almost a rite of passage.  Many feel that without a girlfriend or boyfriend, something is missing in the teen experience.  When that part of the teen experience ends, for whatever reason, it tends to leave a void,  that feeling of "something missing".  Depending on how dependent the teen became on that particular relationship, usually determines the response to the break-up, which can be anger, sadness, depression or maybe mutual understanding and agreement.

Teens and young people need to understand several things.  We all endure break-ups, some good and some not-so-good.  Girlfriend and boyfriend relationships come and go.  Break-ups are part of the process of developing you, and there is no handbook to tell you what to do.  For most of you, you have to figure out what to do on your own.  Not even your parents have given any guidance on how to understand, accept and endure.  You will meet many people in life and some may become your boyfriend or girlfriend and the relationship will probably end, sometimes of your prompting and sometimes not.  Sometimes you may understand the break-up and sometimes you may not.  It's okay to feel sad and maybe even upset over the loss of a certain type of relationship.  Understand that the experience will help in your life development.  It will help you to realize the type of person you are, what you like and what you may not like.  It will help you to make decisions about what is important to you and what is important for your life.  Long-term boyfriend/girlfriend relationships during the teen years can bring unnecessary stress and anxiety.  Trying to live up to the "image" of what you think the relationship should be like, based upon what you hear and see about others sets a high standard, one that is almost impossible to reach.  Break-ups are not the end of the world, even if it feels as such.  If you find that you are having a really hard time adjusting to a break-up, talk to an adult, teacher or social worker.  Understand there will plenty of time in your life for relationships and break-ups.  Enjoy your teen years.  Get out of the house, hang with friends, spend time with family you may have neglected, investigate a new sport or hobby.  Most importantly, spend some time reflecting on what you liked about the relationship, what you didn't like about the relationship, make any adjustments necessary, learn from the experience and embrace the break-up as a part of the education called life.  

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Why Fight?

Why fight?  With this question, I mean "physically" fight.  A question I and many adults have asked teens countless times, especially if one spends a good amount of time around young people and teens.  Why fight?  It seems like a simple question, yet it rarely yields a simple answer, usually when asked to a young person.  Why risk being injured, bruised, ridiculed by peers, suspended, arrested or even killed? (SEE GONE TOO SOON, PARTS I & II)  These are examples of serious consequences to fighting and yet teens don't seem to stop and think about the seriousness of their actions when they opt to fight.  What is the fighting about?  Is it for some sort of credibility or reputation, a way to get attention from peers, a sign of your toughness or because you see many adults engaging in fighting and without any significant consequences?

Yet again, I find another example of young people and teens receiving mixed messages from the adults around them.  In fairness, they see adults fighing at home, in their communities and on TV.  They see adults cheering when a fight occurs and sometimes cheer harder when someone is hurt.  What's the message they get?  That it's okay to solve your anger, frustrations, problems or any emotion or feeling that doesn't make you feel good with fighting?  That somehow the fighting will make everything better or more perfect?

I see young people and teens fighting at school, in malls, on the street, at athletic events, on the street, on public transportation.  I try to talk as much as possible to teens to share my experiences and give them a bit of insight about how important it is to make good choices and decisions and also to hear about their experiences and gain ALOT of knowledge and insight from them.  When it comes to the issue of fighting, I ask if they truly believe that fighting is worth the potential outcome?  Is it worth possbily altering the course of your life, either temporarily or permanently?  Is it worth risking losing your freedom because you have been incarcerated, college scholoarship, job or school placement.  Even more importantly, is it worth it to disappoint your parents or to cost them pain, anquish and finances if you happen to get arrested.  I also seize every opportunity to remind them that school and getting the best education possible is the most important responsibility and if you engage in fighting, you risk losing all of that, that which is so valuable that no price tag would be appropriate. 

I try to offer some possible alternatives that I will share here.  Some are receptive and want to hear them and some are not.  Some believe that fighting doesn't solve problems and some do not.  Some understand that fighting can lead to serious consequences and some do not.  Some understand that just because an adult is doing it (fighting) doesn't make it right and some do not.  I tell them this:  Before you start fighting, try to negotiate something different, something fair, something everyone can agree upon.  Offer some reasonable compromises, that benefit both persons.  Try to imagine several possible alternative solutions to fighting.  Think about the probable consequences, from suspension to serious bodily injury.  Try to understand why you are mad enough to want to fight and decide if its worth it.  Remember that it is okay to agree to disagree on an issue.  Try and get help from an adult who can help you to figure out a response other than fighting.  A few things that I share with young people and teens.  Some listen and some don't.  

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Honesty Is The Best Policy

As a teen, do you ever stop and think about what it means to be honest, to tell the truth or to "not lie"?   Does being honest also mean you can stretch the truth in some way to better meet your needs or make your story sound better?  When you find yourself in the middle of a situation or story where being honest may mean you will get in trouble, lose a friend, miss out on an opportunity or not get what you may want, what do you do?  Do you have a two-second conversation in your mind about honesty, defined as freedom from deceit or fraud, or do you eliminate any time to consider how honesty or dishonesty will play out in your actions and just do or say what will present you in the best light or get you what you want?  Are you honest with your friends, your teachers, your parents?  Are you honest even when you know it may lead to a negative outcome or consequence?  What is most important to you....being truthful and building respect or being untruthful and building distrust and possibly animosity?  It's important to take more than two seconds to consider this and consider how honesty plays a major factor in determining your reputation and how others may view you.  

I wonder how much honesty is discussed at breakfast tables, in classrooms, at dinner tables or in sunday school?  I wonder this because I witness everyday teens making decisions where choosing to be honest or dishonest usually dictates what happens next. In my opinion, too many choose a stretch of the truth or dishonesty, usually out of fear of a consequence or fear of losing something of value, maybe a friend, object or reputation.  Choosing to be honest because it is the RIGHT thing to do may not always be the first consideration or an automatic thought.  Why is this?  Is it because of what they witness or is it because not enough value is placed on honesty?

To be fair to teens, they live in a society where they constantly see examples of adults who choose dishonesty.  They see adults choose dishonesty on TV, at school, at church, on the sports field, at home, in magazines and most other places where they find themselves.  They see adults choose dishonesty to gain something, to look better or to avoid trouble or some kind of negative consequence.  When they observe the adults in their lives choosing dishonesty, what are they to do?  How are they to understand the mixed messages that are being sent and still make the right choice?  There are many stories from teens who recount times when they knew a parent, relative, teacher or other important adult KNOWINGLY chose dishonesty.  What is the message we, the adults, are sending to teens and young people about honesty?  If they see the adults in their lives choosing dishonesty without hesitation or apprehension, why should they choose something different?  The adults set the examples in their lives, modeling the behavior we would like for them to repeat.

The message for teens and young people is this:  Sometimes the adults in your life may not always make the best choices or decisions.  Sometimes they are not honest.  Sometimes they do not tell the truth.  Sometimes they do lie.  It is important to admit to teens and young people that sometimes adults behave in this manner.  It's also important to admit that young people and teens are placed in binds when the adults in their lives behave dishonestly but require the young people and teens to behave honestly.  It's important for everyone, adults and young people, to realize the importance of honesty and it's impact on the lives of others.  Sometimes adults don't always remember this fact and maybe teens and young people are in an ideal position to remind them.  People are watching what you are doing and saying.  Remember that you are a role model to some person, whether young or older.  People remember when you are honest AND when you are dishonest and form opinions about you based upon your honesty or dishonesty.  Choosing to be honest teens and young people usually leads to adults who are responsible, accountable, dependable and respected.  How do you want others to view you?  As an honest person or as an dishonest person?  Do you want others to be able to depend on you and believe what you say?  If your answer is in the positive, if you want others to view you positively, depend on you and believe what you say, then there is one thing to remember:  honesty is the best policy.   

Saturday, November 21, 2009

A Longing for Approval?

Aren't you proud of me?  That's the question that was asked of me.  A question that a young person asked me, not his parent, but an adult in his life.  For a few seconds, I stared intently at him.  Intently because in those few instants many thoughts raced through my mind.  I wondered what he must think of himself, but more importantly, what he must think about what the adults in his life think of him.  I snapped myself out of my self-imposed daze and enthusiastically answered, "of course I am proud of you.  I'm very proud of you".  Aren't you proud of me?  What a question coming from an adolescent, a teenager, a young person.  For some of you, it may seem like a simple, basic question.  For others, it will probably elicit a reaction similar to mine.

That exchange stirrred up some questions in my mind.  Do teens get enough "good stuff" from the adults in their lives?  The good stuff of affirmation and confirmation that they are doing a good job in school and at home.  Do teens get enough positive approval from the adults in their lives?  Do they get enough recognization and acknowledgement?  Do they get enough feel goods from their teachers, counselors, pastors, coaches, and all the other folk who have little or lots of influence in their lives?  Being a teen is not always an easy job.  It can be confusing, stressful and full of unexpected twists and turns.  All teens need to feel appreciated and confident that their lives are of importance to the adults around them, mainly their parents.    

What is the message for youngsters?  I think it is this: You are valued.  Valued by your parents, teachers, and most of the adults in your life.  Many hours of sacrifice and preparation are spent to ensure that you have what you need to navigate your life experiences, be it at school, out with friends or in some other place of influence in your life.  Most of you are doing well in school, are able to engage in sports, social and vocational activities without any injury or harm.  Many of you follow the rules set by your parents or others who have a current say in what's going on in your life.  Sometimes adults get caught up in the stressors of everyday life:  work, finances, bills and concerns over whether the teens in their lives have every opportunity to succeed.  So, if you have ever wondered if someone is proud of you, think about your parents, extended family members, teachers, administrators, coaches and all the other people who work hard to ensure your well-being.  They are all very proud of you, satisfied that their labor and sacrifice has been worth it, happy that you are exceling in school, maintaining positive peer relationships, exhibiting responsible behavior and showing compassion and caring for others less fortunate.  Yes, we are all proud.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Snitching or The Sharing of Essential Information

Snitching.  What is that?  Ask any young person or teen and they will certainly have an answer.  A dictionary definition is "to turn informer, to tattle".  For young people, snitching is viewed as a big deal, one that could change how they are perceived by their peers and friends and change their school experiences.  Many teens view "snitching" or being labeled "a snitch" as extremely negative or bad, something that helps you to lose friends, get teased and bullied and at worst, physically assaulted.  They know stories of other peers being beat up, taunted in class and in the hallway or worse for "snitching".  That is the impression of young people, an impression largely perpetuated by messages and images portrayed in videos, magazines and other mediums frequented by teens.

For young people and teens, snitching or not snitching can impact their behavior.  The story of Derrion Albert immediately comes to mind (refer to previous posting, GONE TOO SOON).  Assaulted by peers and schoolmates, it was difficult for the authorities to conclude their investigation because other students who had witnessed the fight refused to come forward with information, for fear of being labled "a snitch".  Derrion ultimately died of his injuries.  Derrion's story was a national story, but there are many stories of instances in which young people and teens refuse or are reluctant to report some information for fear of being labeled a snitch by their peers.  Stories of incidents that occur in the classroom regarding teachers and other students.  Stories of incidents of hurt or harm to other students within the school environment.  Stories of the knowledge of existing weapons on school property.  Stories of the knowledge of pending incidents of violence.  The list could go on and on.  The messages associated with snitching need adjustment, so that young people are better able to make better choices and decisions and hopefully can prevent the occurence of negative and harmful incidents.

The message for young people is this:  Snitching does not have to be viewed negatively.  How about thinking of it as an opportunity to promote the health and well-being of your peers and friends?  If you aware of something that will impact the school environment or impact the well-being of a peer or friend, consider it your duty and obligation to report what you know to a social worker, counselor, teacher, school adminstrator or your parents.  It is the right thing to do.  Making threats against the school or students, a student threatening to harm themselves or others, a teacher who is inappropriate in or out of the classroom, a fight about to happen, a fight that has happened, or any incident which you believe does not ADD value to your school should be dicussed with one of the above individuals.  Many young people are sharing information with the correct people.  However, if you're not comfortable with sharing your name, then share the information anonymously by writing a note or letter.  Students often leave letters and notes in the mailboxes and under the doors of teachers and administrators as a means of communicating what is right and what is wrong. 

Young people understand what is right and what is wrong.  Some sometimes struggle with what to do with information that should be shared with an adult.   Information that they feel may threaten the health and well-being of peers and friends.  They want to share the information but they also don't want to earn the label of being a snitch and losing their social status.  How others percieve them is important and often not a bargaining chip.  My answer is don't be a "snitch", that person that others "say" is not cool.  Don't be a person who is influenced by others to change what you know and believe to be right.  Encourage your friends to do the same.  This is the first step in changing the perceptions of snitching.  Be a person that believes in good over bad.  Be a person who cares about the safety of your school and your friends.  Be a person who doesn't agree with what those "celebrities" have to say about sharing information.  Be a person who shares essential or important information for the health and well-being of yourself, your friends and your school.  Your class, your friends and your school will benefit from young people who know, believe and act.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

One Down, Three To Go

Well, the day has finally come and there is nothing you can do about it.  That day, being the end of the marking period, the last day of the quarter.  That day when many teens wake up, realize that "play time" is over and scramble to school and attempt to meet with their teachers in a last minute, desperate, attempt to get extra credit or talk their way into a better grade.  Promises to do better, promises to attend after-school tutoring, promises to sit in the front of class, promises to keep  promises.  No stone is left unturned in the arena of promises.  This past school week, many students experienced a happy or, in some cases, sad dose of reality.  It's now only a matter of DAYS before the official grade report, aka, report card arrives home and in the hands of "those other people".  Some of you just may have some explaining to do.

What will yours report?  Will it report a job well done, a confirmation of your hard work, long hours of preparation and study, and your understanding of the commitment needed for the most important aspect of teen life, which is school achievement.  Will your report card indicate that you understand that education is the catalyst to most, if not all, successes, that education, once achieved, can never be lost, that education solidifies your sense of self, that education is what will prepare you for the future that you envision, with all its possibilities?  Will yours report a job not-so-well done?  If so, then why?  Is it because you truly have experienced challenges in grasping the lessons in a particular class?  Is it true because you have missed a significant amount of time out of class as a result of a legitimate, excused reason?  Or, is it because you lost track of time and goofed off in your classes believing there would always be more time to get the work done, do better on that quiz or test, turn in that homework or complete that research project?  Did you put too much time and focus in your athletic career or social career?  Too much time on the football field, soccor field, volleyball court, swimming pool, or basketball court may lead to increased skills, but will also lead to disaster in the classroom.  Too much time on Facebook, MySpace, email, the phone, the IPOD and those computer games will also lead to disaster in the classroom.  Too much time being the social butterfly who attends every party and looks for reasons to be out of class will also lead to disaster in the classroom.

Wherever you find yourself this 1st grading quarter, the lesson for young people is this:  School is your MOST important endeavor.  It comes before all else....sports, friends, fun times.  Whether a freshman or a senior, know that what you accomplish in the classroom will matter.  It will matter to the colleges you apply, the military in which you may enlist or any other program in which you may choose to apply.  Don't take for granted that you have a lot of time because you don't.  The grades you receive in ALL four quarters are calculated into your GPA (grade point average).  Don't wait for your teachers or parents to come to you about your school and class performance.  That is your responsibility, part of your JOB of going to school. You should be constantly communicating with your teachers regarding your performance, grade, assignments missed or extra credit and tutoring opportunities.  When asked about your grade in a class, the answer should never be "I don't know".  Take full ownership of your academic skills in the same manner you do your athletic and social skills.   Work just as hard to improve your grades as you do to improve your other talents.

So, let this first quarter be the wake-up call.  A wake-up call to keep doing what your doing, if you have an A average, or to make some changes and rearrange your focus and priorities if your grades were less than good.  Strive to be the "A" student, the one that understands that there is NO time to play and that each quarter matters in the game of education.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

What Is Domestic Violence?

Did you hear?  Today is the last day of National Domestic Violence Awareness Month.  Do you know what it is?  National Domestic Violence Awareness Month is one month out of the year when the issue of violence, forced or threatened, among family members and teenagers is discussed, with extra attention being given to solutions and resources.  National Domestic Violence Awareness Month.  What does this have to do with young people?  The answer is "lots".  Domestic violence has "lots" to do with young people. 

Check out a few stats.  According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in 10 teen girls and one in 11 teen boys admits to having experienced physical violence in a dating relationship in the past year.  One in three teens say they know someone who has been physically assaulted or hurt by a dating partner. One in five teens ages 13 and 14 who have been in a relationship say that they know someone who has been hit in anger by a boyfriend or girlfriend. One in five teens admits to being emotionally abused in the past year.  Among 11 to 14 year-olds who have been in relationships, 62% of them know friends who have been verbally abused by a boyfriend or girlfriend.  Approximately one in five teen girls have been physically or sexually abused by their partner.  70% of teen girls who have been sexually assaulted knew their attacker. The attacker was a friend, boyfriend or casual acquaintance. More than half of girls surveyed reported mutual aggression in their relationship – meaning that both she and her partner were physically aggressive toward each other.  A clear indicator that young people tend to think its okay to hit one another and that young people are enduring surprisingly high rates of abuse, physical, emotional and sexual, among one another.

Are you surprised, shocked?  Here's more information.  According to the National Youth Violence Prevention Research Center, studies show that children who witness violence at home experience behavioral problems and increased aggression, have less developed social and conflict resolution skills, and may suffer long-term developmental effects. These youth are also at risk of engaging in future violence and of being abused themselves. Researchers have found that people who batter their partners/mates are also more likely to abuse their children.  What does this indicate for young people?  Recent stories of teen-on-teen violence around the country indicates that young people are struggling with what to do with the "social stimuli" that perpetuates a culture of violence, particularly violence among females and that young people are unaware of how to adequately and appropriately address and express pain, anger and rage.
Teen domestic violence.  Another area of the adolescent experience in need of increased attention.  It's much more common than most teens, parents or others may think.  Many young people are subjected and impacted by this EVERYDAY.  Disagreements turn into arguments which turn into shouting matches which turn into shoving matches which turn into physcial fights, where someone almost always gets injured.  Teens know about it.  Some think its okay.  Some accept it because its been a way of life for them.  Some feel pressured to accept it from peers and adults.  They witness it among their friends and are likely to be victims themselves.  Teens are exposed to violence at home, at school and in their everyday life experiences.  Add to that, the violence viewed on TV, movies, videos, the internet and magazines.  It is overwhelming and the message sent to young people is mixed.  Adults TELL them that domestic violence is bad, but SHOW them that domestic violence is hip, cool, and in some way acceptable.  The internet, movies, TV, videos and magazines are very effective in communicating this messge, however unintentional it may be. 

What are young people to do?  A start is to understand the message.  Domestic violence, at home, school, with your friends or boyfriend/girlfriend is never right and never acceptable.  If your boyfriend or girlfriend calls you names, tells you what to wear, discourages you from friendships, criticizes you unfairly, blames you for their negative choices/decisions, or threatens you in any way, this is known as emotional abuse.  Your response to this is to go and speak with an adult for guidance and tell your parents.  If your boyfriend or girlfriend touches you forcefully, like pull your arm or hair, hit you or in any way inflict physical pain, this is known as physical abuse.  Your response to this is to seek guidance and advice from an adult and tell your parents.  Do not keep an abusive relationship to yourself.  Tell someone and seek help.  As a teen, you should never feel as if you deserve any mistreatment from a peer, boyfriend/girlfriend or family member.  No teen has the right to attempt to gain control over another by using any form of abuse.  If you have changed your attitude, style, hobby, social life and lifestyle to satisfy your boyfriend or girlfriend, you may be at-risk of an abusive relationship.  If you experience any of the above described abuses at home, either directly or witness against your mother or father, speak to the social worker, counselor or adminstrator at your school immediately.  If you believe you have been a victim of domestic violence in the past and need help, talk to your school counselors immediately.

National Domestic Violence Awareness Month.  It's the last day of the month, but not the last day to speak out on this important issue among young people.  Adults need to model appropriate examples of expressions of anger and unhappiness and teach young people acceptable vs. unacceptable behaviors, particularly in relationships.  Teens need to increase their knowledge base regarding abusive behaviors to readily recognize and to display an intolerance to the abuse that threatens self esteem, self-worth, ambition, drives and possibly your life.     

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A Few Things To Know

Teenagers.  Most times when I use that word with someone, I almost immediately get some type of response, be it a snicker, a smile or a grimace.  Sometimes, I even get a good dose of "rolling of the eyes".  When I tell people that I work with teenagers in a school setting and community setting, I almost always get the "bless you" or "somebody's gotta help them and I hope you can" response.  It's funny to me because I believe teenagers are some of the most interesting, fun, challenging, fascinating, energetic, engaging and loyal group of individuals I have ever met.  I absolutely LOVE my profession of social work, career as a school clinician and program developer and population of teenagers with whom I have the most contact.

Truthfully, sometimes teenagers can be exhausting, but that's because they have usually challenged me in a way or ways that force me to look within and "check myself" to ensure that I am doing what I am doing for the right reasons and not for a convenient reason.  I think they teach me as much as I teach them.  Each day, I encounter something that makes me think about all that teenagers endure.  When I think back to my own teen years and I hope everyone does at some point, I remember times during high school feeling difficult and sometimes feeling alone and isolated, wishing for someone, nonjudmental and understanding, other than my parents, in which to share my inner thoughts.  As I remember back, there were some things I wish someone had shared with me at that time.  Following are a FEW THINGS TO KNOW as you live your life as a teenager.

School is the most important endeavor in your life at the moment.  Going to school, doing your best in the classroom and receiving an education sets the foundation for your future.  A future that is bright and full of endless possibilities.  I like to tell the teens I encounter that "if you can dream it, you can do it or be it".  Don't take school for granted and think that you have time to waste.  Every grade, from 9th to 12th matters.  Colleges review your entire high school career including your attendance.  If you are having a hard time in a particular class, don't give up.  Actually, NEVER give up.  Ask for help.  Ask a friend, peer, teacher or other school person to help you.  Ask a family member, church member or another person you know, like and respect for help.  Keep asking until you receive the help you need and pass that class.  Always be willing to work hard to achieve your goals.

College will be one of the best decisions and experiences of your life.  If possible, stay on campus in the dormitory.  If given the option, pick a roommate that you don't know.  I know you and your best friend may have planned for years how you would go to the same college and room together, etc, but be adventurous and expand your social network and circle.  That is the beginning of a lifetime of networking and learning to get along with others that are different from you.  Learn to manage your time, manage your money and manage your life.  Don't worry about money for college.  Talk to the guidance counselors at your school.  They are wealth of information for financial aid, grants and scholarships.  If you are the first in your family to attend college, congratulate yourself and vow not to be the last.

Feel good in your own skin.  The world is made up of different types of people, with no type better than another type.  I like to say that we all have one heart, one mind, one brain.  These are some of the important things in life and we all have them in common.  You are handsome and beautiful the way you are.  No need to stress about how you look, how your hair hangs or how long or short it is.  No need to stress about skin tone or color, that one or two extra pimples on your face or pounds on your body.   Consider reducing or maybe eliminating sodas, fried foods and candy/sweets from your diet.  No need to stress about your body make-up.  Your legs, arms, chest and bottom don't need enhancing.  Your body is still changing and developing.  Give yourself the time and space to evolve.

It's okay to go it alone.  Don't feel pressured to get a boyfriend or girlfriend.  There will be plenty of time in life for boyfriends and girlfriends and all the choices and decisions that come with having a boyfriend or girlfirend.  Sex and sexuality does not make you cool or mature, no matter what others "say" they are doing and no matter what the TV or magazines report.  Now is not the best time to be serious with any one person.  Now is the time to meet many new people, develop friendships, trade stories, create laughter and make memories.

Know that drugs and alcohol set the stage for self-destruction.  Nothing good comes from using drugs or alcohol.  If someone pressures you to use any drug or alcohol, understand that this person is NOT your friend.  Remove yourself from their presence, their environment, their influence.  Drugs and alcohol can lead to an addiction that can take a lifetime to overcome, creating havoc in your personal, family, school and ultimately, your professional life.  If you think using drugs or alcohol is cool, you are misguided in your thinking.  It is not cool.  It is dangerous, addictive, and destructive.   They will not make your life better, make you happier or take away any pain.  There are many stories of teens making poor choices while under the influence of a drug or alcohol.  Don't be one of them.

Be kind to your peers and friends.  Don't be a bully.  What you say or do to another person may affect them for the rest of their lives.  Remember that everyone's life situation is different.  You don't have the right to hurt others because you may be hurting.  Instead of teasing that quiet kid, talk to them and find out that your commonalities are more than your differences.  Recognize if a friend or peer is feeling sad and talking about hurting themselves or others.  Tell an adult immediately and encourage them to seek help.  There is no such thing as snitching if you are helping someone.

Be aware of your actions because someone is ALWAYS watching.  Be mindful of what you text on your phone, and load onto your MySpace, Facebook or other social sites.  You don't want a silly mistake you made in high school follow you into your adult life when you have taken on a more serious demeanor.  If you think your parents or other adult would not approve of what you write or load onto your site, then don't do it.  Teachers, colleges and potential employers will see what others say about you and all the pictures you put on your site and judge you by what is visible to them.  Don't embarass yourself, your parents, your family and all the people who support you.

Love and respect your parents and caregivers.  They have sacrificed a lot for your benefit and well-being.  Your parents and caregivers will be your biggest fans, cheering squad and supporters.  Your parents were teens themselves, once upon a time, even if they don't act as such.  They understand more than you may realize.  Your parents and caregivers work hard to ensure that you receive the best possible advantages and opportunites they can provide.  Your success is their pleasure, but your failure is their pain.  Remember that when you come home and the lights are on, the phone is working, the air is blowing, the heat is pumping and the food is cooking, many sacrifices, unknown to you, are being made on your behalf.  Always strive to do your best and make your parents proud.

A few things for teens to know.  A few things to help on the journey.  A few things to live by.  A few things to share with another.  There are many more things to know, but as with anything in life, there is a time and a place for everything.  So, whenever someone asks me how I could work with teenagers or comment that they admire my patience for teens, I simply reply that there are a few things to know.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Behind the Wheel

Today a student shared with me that she likes to drive fast.  She doesn't have her driver's license yet and she assured me that this is how she feels, not that she is driving without a license.  She also told me that she wanted to be a NASCAR race driver.  I guess my reaction, open mouth, wide eyes, was enough to tickle her because she started laughing and said, " I know, it sounds crazy."  I reassured her that it didn't sound crazy and that I would be honored to say that I once knew the person who became a famous NASCAR driver.

We joked and laughed for a bit more about different career paths and her various professional interests.  I couldn't help but take an opportunity to share with her that this week is national teen driver safety week.  I shared with her some of the sad statistics of teenagers who have been seriously injured or killed in auto accidents, with a majority of them involving teens who were not exercising driver safety.  I felt as if she may be at risk because she has already shared that she likes to drive fast.  The scary part is that she said it with a smile, as if she received some sort of rush or affirmation.  I quickly wondered how many teens feel the exact same way as she.

Teen drivers.  I suppose most adults can remember being one and the excitement and adrenaline rush felt on the first time behind the wheel of a car.  I suppose most teenagers would prefer to be recognized in another manner, because most "older" people have thoughts and comments regarding teen drivers that are mostly critical.  Teen drivers.  They don't always understand the complexity of operating a moving vehicle.  They don't always understand the importance of respecting the roadways and the language of the road, meaning all those signs which indicate "stop", "yield", "slow down", "detour", "proceed with caution" etc.  They don't always understand the importance of maintaining strict attention to the roadway and to avoid distractions such as the radio, cell phone or other passengers.  They don't always understand that an accident can occur in a split second and there is not always enough time to react in a manner that will end in a good result.  They don't always understand that driving at night, when you are tired or under the influence of any type of substance can result in tragedy for the driver and others.  They don't always understand that speed limits are in place for a reason.  They don't always understand that letting others drive your car is putting you and your parents and other family members in jeapardy, particularly if an accident should happen.  They don't always understand that racing on the roadway, a fun past-time to them, can lead to life-changing and/or life-ending results.   

National Teen Driver Safety Week.  An important, not-to-be-underestimated week for young people.  Important because it is imperative that society focus attention on it's youngest drivers, to educate them on the dangers of driving unsafe and placing their lives and the lives of others in peril.  The lesson for young people is this:  Driving is a privilege, not a right.  It is a privilege to be taken very seriously.  Understand that no one is obligated to allow you to drive.  Your life could depend on how seriously you take this privilege.  Your parents and society trust you with making the best choices and decisions when operating a vehicle.  It is not a toy.  It is not that simulator you play on at Dave and Buster's and it is certainly not like that bicycle and motor bike you may have operated.  Every person you encounter on the roadways is trusting that you are taking the responsibility of driving seriously in your actions AND reactions.  They trust that you will not succumb to peer pressure and influence to drive fast or wrecklessly, not wear your seat belt, pile too many friends in the car or take your eyes off of the road.

As my student left my office today, I wondered how she would be behind the wheel of a car.  A student who is already reporting that she likes to drive fast.  I hope that she and all other young, teen drivers will take the privilege seriously and observe national teen driver safety week and all its education and tips in ensuring that teen drivers are always safe, always careful, always attentive, always sensible, always accountable.  Teen drivers.  We all couldn't wait to be one.  In honor of national teen driver safety week, may we not lose another one to unnecessary carelessness.  According to research, nearly 5000 teens per year will lose their lives to America's roads.  May you NOT be one of them.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Those Two Words

I could tell by the expression on her face as she and her friend asked to come to my office to talk.  I could tell by her need to bring someone with her and the reluctance to talk to me by herself.  I could tell by the "slow" stroll we took through the building and down the stairway and hallway to my office.  I could tell by the nervous, empty conversation as we walked what probably seemed like an eternity.  We sit down.  They comment on how nice my office smells.  Both young ladies are looking at me.  I could tell by the expressions.  I was just waiting to hear it.  "Well, say something", says one.  "You tell her", says the other.  "No, YOU tell her" is the return response.  I could tell by the look in her eye.  I break the exchange.  "Honey, just blurt it out.  It will be ok".

"I'm pregnant".  Those two words that are hard to say and hard to hear.  I knew my initial reaction would have a lasting impression upon this extremely impressionable teenager.  I knew she probably had spent most of the day and possibly the evening before contemplating how she would tell me and when she would tell me.  I knew she probably was frightened at the thought of a negative, unsympathetic reaction from me.  I knew she was feeling as if her entire life had just turned upside down.  I knew she was scared and I knew she needed a nonjudgmental, caring ear.  As I looked at her, I thought many things in that moment.  School, graduation, college, money, support, diapers, bottles, daycare.  Who would help with all these things?  Who will help this sixteen year-old "child" address a heavy burden that she placed upon herself.  I wanted to say many things.  Instead, I said this:  "I'm glad you came to talk to me".  At that instant, I saw the anxiety, fear, apprehension and nervousness flush out of her.  It was as if she, and her friend, let out a huge sigh of relief.  We commenced to have a candid discussion.

I asked her how she felt.  I asked her what she understood about her "situation".  I asked her if her parents were aware of this development in her life.  I asked her about the father.  I asked her about medical services.  I asked her about her immediate future plans.  Instead of hurling a bunch of "you know better" or "how could you" or "your life is over" statements, I allowed her the opportunity and space to share her story and her experiences which led to this conversation, this day, in this office. 

I shared with her what I share with many young girls who have found themselves in the exact situation.  I began with the stories of the young ladies of the teen parenting group.  I shared their struggles of having to break the news to family members, most of whom were angry and hostile.  I shared their struggles of having to live with the stigma of teen pregnancy and teen motherhood.  I shared their struggles of not having the support, financial or otherwise, of the baby's father.  I shared their struggles of having to manage school, work and parenthood.  I shared their struggles of sometimes having to "choose" between school, work and parenthood.  I shared their struggles of having to forego "teen stuff" to be held accountable to a new, full-time responsibility.  I shared their struggles of feeling unsupported, overwhelmed and sometimes depressed.

I ended by sharing with her some well-known facts.  Teenage pregnancy is not life-ending, but life-altering.  How one's life is altered depends upon the individual.  Be confident, assertive, aggressive, committed and focused.  Teen parents have access to supportive networks and services.  Teen parents can and do complete high school and pursue college and advanced education.  Teen parenting does not indicate your child's future or direction.  The President of the United States and leader of the free world, Barack Obama, was the child of a teen parent. 

I don't know what the future holds for my student, but I do know that she is a bright, intelligent, beautiful, insightful, and goal-oriented young person.  She is willing to have the hard conversation about her actions and decisions.  She is honest and truthful to herself.  She understands the value in seeking adult support and guidance.  I expect wonderful things from her now and in the future.

This is what teens should understand:  Teenage pregnancy is not a new phenomenon, yet those two words, I'm pregnant, continue to be controversial and somewhat of a lightening rod for young girls and boys.  With increased education and prevention services for young people, teenage pregnancy continues to be one of the top areas of concern for young people.  Why is that?  If you find yourself in this situation, talk to someone you trust, your parents or another adult about your choices and subsequent consequence.  Engage in careful reflection and consideration in comptemplating your future, a future that continues to shine bright and with promise.  Seek counsel from others in similar circumstance.  Seek appropriate medical care and nutrition information.  Think about the choices you make BEFORE you make them.  Think about all the positive and negative outcomes associated with your choices and think about if you can live with those outcomes.  Don't let what your friends and peers "say" they are doing influence what you may or may not do.  In most instances, it's just talk.  Don't always believe what you see on TV or read in magazines.  What is happening in one person's life is not an indicator of what may happen in your life. 

"Teenage pregnancy" and "I'm pregnant".  Admittedly, two sets of words that evoke some sort of emotion within us.  It did for me and my student on that day, in that office, when she finally blurted them out.  It's an uneasy subject for young people and adults.  We all struggle, in some way, with how to confront, address, manage.  Most young people and adults still exhibit apprehension in discussing openly.  At some point, all of us, young people, parents and other authority figures will have to engage in more open discussion on this topic.  In the meantime, I must admit that I'd rather hear "other" two words:  I STUDIED, I PASSED, I GRADUATED.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


HOMECOMING.  It has several different meanings, but for a teen, it is a "feel good" time, a time early in the school year when you get "all dressed up" and everything must be perfect.  Perfect dress, perfect suit, perfect shoes, perfect hair, pefect cut, perfect make-up, perfect shave, perfect jewels.  The excitement begins brewing early in the week when you start what is commonly known as "spirit" week.  All week, students get to celebrate something different each day with the culmination being the big dance on Saturday night.  There's dress-up days, teacher-student competitions, class challenges, parades, pep rallies, king and queen and the football game.  For teens, this is an opportunity, a "pass" to let loose a bit and have some fun.  An opportunity to come together with your current classmates and meet past classmates.  An opportunity to come together and celebrate the good stuff of adolescence.  That stuff that keeps you coming back year after year, long after you have graduated and succeeded in conquering new quests and challenges. 

Over the weekend, many high schools celebrated HOMECOMING, a time of celebration.  Celebration of memories.  Celebration of good times.  Celebration of good friends.  Celebration of what used to be.  Homecoming could be described as sort of a ritual with the parade and the homecoming court.  But it is also a "feel good" story.  A story of young people stepping out of that existence of worry and stress and into an existence of laughter, fun and good times.  A story of how young people can come together, regardless of differences, and share in the common thread of school community and school spirit.  A story of how young people can use HOMECOMING to leave positive, lasting impressions for others to follow.

HOMECOMING.  It's more than the parade, the dress-up, the dance.  It can be a time to mobilize change and "do some things".  Invite past teachers and staff to come back and mentor.  Invite past students to come back and mentor.  Invite past parents to come back and mentor.  Organize a fundraiser to gain monies to support the academic advancement of future classes, such as expanded libraries, computer labs or tech centers.  Remind community partners of commitments made and solicit new, broader commitments.  Invite the local TV, newspaper and radio station to come and spend a day at your school and witness the wonderful learning environments.  Request guidance and trainings for current class leaders to ensure successful leadership for future officers.

HOMECOMING.  If you thought it was just about the best looking girl or the best looking guy, think again.  It's about remembering the past, enjoying the present and planning the future.  It's about coming back to that place that feels safe and welcoming.  It's about coming back and expressing gratitude to all those who have helped you along the way.  It's about coming back and helping another teen feel good.  Feel good about self.  Feel good about school.  Feel good about life.  It's about remembering how wonderful it is to be a teenager.  

HOMECOMING.  Would you dare miss it? 

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Gone Too Soon, Part II

DERRION ALBERT.  By now you know him.  His name has been in the news for the past two weeks.  Derrion Albert.  His videotaped beating death in his schoolyard has been broadcast around the world.  Derrion Albert.  He has caused many people, young and older, to pause for a moment or two to think about the safety of children and the safety of children in schools, particularly urban schools.  Derrion Albert.  His story is being told in the White House, in the halls of the Justice Department and in the halls of the Education Department.  Derrion Albert.  His story has brought attention to a city where he was reared, educated and killed.  Derrion Albert.  How can young people process his death and the death of so many other "Derrion's"?  How many young people residing within urban and suburban communities in this nation have lost their lives to school violence?  Surely if known, the numbers would be shocking and unbelievable.   What does the death of Derrion Albert and others like him ultimately mean?

There will probably be many answers to this last question.  Most positive, a few not so positive.  Truthfully, only time will be able to give the accurate answer.  Time will tell how the name Derrion Albert moved a school, a community, a city, a country, a society to awake and realize that the issue of school violence, also known as student-on-student violence, is a GLOBAL problem, which requires a global response.  Not one that occurs in one neighborhood, in one city, to one person.  The world has lost out on what could have been for Derrion Albert.  Gone could have been the next inventor, the next orator, the next big difference in the lives of many.

What should young people think of the attention this week on the issue of school violence?  I'm not a young person, but if I were, I would breathe a big sigh of relief and think and hope that all this attention would foster in a new day.  A day in which the focus is on how to make the lives of young people better.  Attention that is much needed and undoubtedly welcomed.  There is much talk about the outrage and disgust of a city and country that has thus far failed at protecting some of the most precious of all, our children.

This is what I say to my students and to young people:  I know you are disgusted and most importantly, fearful.  Disgusted that you don't feel safe coming to or leaving school.  Disgusted that the very place where you are told you can advance your life can also take your life.  Disgusted that you have too many "RIP" t-shirts for friends lost.  Disgusted that you feel forced to carry a weapon in which to render protection if needed.  Disgusted that no one seems to "hear" your pain, discouragement and disillusionment when you act out violently toward yourself and others.  Fearful that you may be the next victim of school violence. 

I ask them, what will YOU do?  What will YOU do to address YOUR problems?  Will you get mad, start fights, engage in criminal behavior or experiment with illegal substances or alchohol?  OR will you confront and challenge your parents, school leaders, church leaders, and community leaders who are responsible for guiding you, leading you, directing you.  Responsible for showing you what to do when you feel angry or mad about the ever-mounting pressures of teenage life.  Responsible for showing you how to address the pain felt from past and current traumatic experiences.  Violence in all forms, is about pain and the inability, at a given time or moment, to adequately and appropriately address it and put it in its proper place within our minds and actions.  Show me a young person who acts out violently and I'll show you a young person who is in pain, most notably, emotional pain. 

Herein lies the lesson for young people.  Don't underestimate yourself and your ability to influence.  Don't wait for the change to come from city hall, your state or national government.  You have a voice, a voice that can and will be heard by the adults in your life.  Use your voice, not your fists, for expression and change.  Use your voice to speak to the world about what you need to feel safe, to feel productive, to feel hopeful.  Use your voice to hold those adults around you (parents, relatives, teachers, counselors, pastors, coaches, community leaders) accountable in what they need to do and should do for you.  Use your voice to ask for things.  Ask for conflict resolution.  Ask for job training.  Ask for academic support.  Ask for extended learning opportunities.  Ask for better libraries, more computers, more nontraditional learning environments.

Derrion Albert and countless, nameless others like him.  Gone too soon?  Absolutely.  We, those they left behind, know their deaths have not been in vain.  They are the symbols of hope and change.  Hope for days when no young person will fear the schoolyard and change in how young people think about themselves, others and the world around them.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

The Teen Life

Hanging at the park, or the ballgame, or the movies, or the mall, or that restaurant, or that cool party, or that friend's house.  The life of a teenager.  Making new friends, losing old friends, meeting new girls, meeting new boys, that first crush, that first heartbreak, getting that first job, learning to drive.  The life of a teenager.  Loving parents, hating parents, needing parents.  The life of a teenager.  Cell phone, text messages, facebook, youtube, myspace.  The life of a teenager.  Studying hard, making the grade, graduating, college, work.  The life of a teenager.  Seeking praise, wanting praise, self identification.  The life of a teenager.

The life of a teenager.  One of the most misunderstood, most talked about, most exploited periods of time in an individual's life.  Friday, I spent some time watching the teenagers who walk the hallways everyday at The Baltimore Talent Development High School.  It is a wonderful place of learning, led by dedicated, caring people, located in the inner city, in a neighborhood that some would deem "undesirable" and others would deem "full of promise and hope".  As I watch them move about, talking and laughing among themselves, grabbing stuff from their lockers, eating candy and lollipops, trying to sneak that cell phone call or ipod tune, running down the hallway, and rushing to the cafeteria, I cannot help but think that they are "typical" teenagers.  Even more, I wondered if they view themselves as "typical" teens, just like most other kids their age or do they view their lives as somewhat different, not the same.  It is my hope that they as well as all teens view themselves at "typical".  Typical in the sense that they are just like most of their same-age peers, regardless of geographic location, economic status or racial/cultural identity.  They are scared about growing up.  They are scared about making their own choices and decisions and having to live with the consequences of such.  They are scared about what the world has in store for them.  They are scared about being able to get a good education, get a good job and be able to take care of themselves.  They are scared about falling prey to such ills as substance abuse, violence, and teenage pregnancy.  They are scared of not being able to live up to "the standard", real and perceived set for them and in most cases, by them.  They are scared of not obtaining the approval of the important adults in their lives.

All of this is very real in the life of a teen and the lesson for young people is this:  Most adults, particularly your parents and teachers, know that your teen years are a time of great fun but also a time of great fear.  You are not charting into unknown OR unfamiliar territory.  What you are experiencing has been experienced in some manner by most of the adults you know.  The only thing that has changed is time.  You are not alone and you are not doing anything new.  Most adults, at one time or another, have shared some version of your fears.  Keep in mind that they are present in your lives to guide you and help to ease your fears of growing up.  Use them.  Learn from them.  Study their successes AND their mistakes.  Call and talk to them for advice.  Your teen years are the time to "test out" your decision-making and survival skills.  It is the time to make some choices on your own and accept the consequences, good and/or bad.  In most cases, you won't be penalized or judged harshly.  Spend more time learning about yourself as opposed to the lyrics of the next rap song, or following the life and times of the currently popular movie star, reality star, athlete or professional this or that.  That is the way to increase your self confidence and decrease your fears.  Being scared is a state of your mind.  A mind that is controlled by you.  You, who hold the power to be or do whatever you can dream.  Remember to smile more, laugh more, be more kind to others, compassionate for others, giving with others.

As I continued to watch the teenagers of The Baltimore Talent Development High School go about their day, I couldn't help but feel a bit envious.  Envious because of their stage in life.  Adolesence.  That time in life when you really have no potentially life altering worries.  No worries about the rent.  No worries about the lights.  No worries about food.  No worries about job downsizing.  No worries about making it all work and having enough for the next day.  Instead, you get to worry about not having enough fun.  Worry about not meeting enough new people.  Worry about missing out on the best party of the year or the best school dance.  Worry about missing out on a great opportunity to study abroad, learn a new language, experience a new culture.  Worry about not staying after school for that extra half hour of help in english, math or science.  Worry about not hearing about that great opportunity to take part in a cool community service project.  Worry about not taking the time to read to stimulate the mind and gain knowledge.  Worry about not taking the time to study history.  YOUR history so you can understand your past and make plans for your future. Worry about not getting the message that one person can make a difference in the world.

The teen  life.  It is mostly the same with most young people, something I hope most teens realize.  The same worries.  The same ups and downs.  It doesn't matter if you live in Miami, Maine, Seattle or California.  The teen life. What you make of it is up to you.  The teen life.  What will your memory be? 

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Gone Too Soon

DERRION ALBERT.  Do you know him?  He's a 16-year-old, honor roll student from Chicago who was killed by a group of his peers in front of his school.  It seems as if this horrifying, sad, tragic incident is a case of a young person "being in the wrong place at the wrong time" meeting up with another young person or persons who don't know what to appropriately do with their own anger, frustration and sense of hopelessness.  Unfortunately, there are too many stories about young people "being in the wrong place at the wrong time" and too often the story doesn't end well.  Too, too many of us know of a peer, classmate, sibling, friend or acquaintance who has been the victim of school violence. 

School violence.  A topic that I feel doesn't receive enough attention from young people, parents, other adults and society.  School violence.  Does "society's" lack of shock, outrage, anger and intolerance for this epidemic signal something greatly amiss with us?  School violence.  Is it okay for young people to fight over turf, girls, boys, words spoken, coats, shoes, money, respect?  School violence.  When is it ever ok for a young person to bring a gun, knife or other weapon to school or school events for the purpose of attention, protection or reputation?  School violence.  Why do many young people and adults alike feel this is NOT an issue in their school community but as something that goes on with those "other" kids in that "other" community?  School violence.  Two words that signal to young people that you are not safe, you are not valued, you are not important.

The lesson for young people is this:  Violence is NOT the answer and school violence is NEVER the answer.  It's not okay to solve your problems through fighting.  It's not okay to bring a gun to the school dance.  It's not okay to stab a peer because you don't like the way he or she looks.  It's not okay to harm others with your words or deeds when you aren't feeling good.  It's not okay to "go along" with your friends and support them in chasing someone down and beating them with weapons and objects.  It's not okay to stand by and cheer when someone else is being hurt.  It's not okay to plan to harm your class or your school because you don't know how to express your feelings.  You don't want to make a choice or decision that may cost you your freedom or your future.  Peace and communication are ALWAYS the answer.  Find an adult or other young person you like and trust to talk to about how you are feeling.  Ask them to help you to feel better about yourself.  Read a book about someone who has overcome a similar situation as yours.  Write poetry or short stories to share with others about your experiences.  Be the bigger person and set the positive example to admitting you were wrong when appropriate, apologize when needed and forgive and forget when asked.  Talk to one another and find out that you have more in common than different.  Support one another.  When you see a classmate, peer or friend feeling down or going through something, offer words of encouragement and a listening ear.  Sometimes a smile and a hug is all that is needed.  You will find that if you give this, it comes back to you in your time of need.   

DERRION ALBERT.  May we all, especially young people, learn from what happened to him.  He lost his life at the age of 16 and over something that is not clear.  But what is clear is that he, like too many others, lost his life over something senseless and without merit or meaning.  He will NEVER see his high school graduation.  He will NEVER go to his prom.   He will NEVER see another basketball or football game.  He will NEVER get to hang out with his buddies and play video games.  He will NEVER get to stress over SAT's, college applications, leaving home for the first time.  He will NEVER get to build a career, get married, have a family.  He will NEVER get to experience the joys and sorrows of life.  He will NEVER get to see his parents again and bring them the joy that most young people bring their parents.  He will NEVER get to be what you all are capable of being: good, honest, caring, responsible young people who become good, honest, caring and responsible adults. 

DERRION ALBERT.  Gone too soon.


Friday, September 25, 2009

Who Am I?

"I don't have the looks of Rihanna, the body of Beyonce or the height of Ciara".  That is what one of my students said to me today as she was tearfully sharing with me the pain she feels for "not being pretty enough, not being skinny enough, not being smart enough" to be popular in school.  Her parents don't understand her pain and she doesn't know how to talk to them in a way that will help them to understand.  They talk at her and not with her.  This student is none of those things she described.  She is the exact opposite:  beautiful inside and out, funny, smart, a deep thinker.  She's someone, like many of her same-age peers, who believes in the good in people.  So why doesn't she believe better about herself?  Her story, unfortunately, is not unique.  I encounter many students, male and female, who don't know who they are, have no idea how to define themselves, and no idea how to find the answers.  This student feels alone, confused and ovewhelmed at trying to live up to an image that she has no idea how to define or articulate in a way that makes sense to her or anyone else.

The mind of a teenager is constantly at work, constantly processing.  That can be a good thing but the troubling part with that is in many cases, that mind is processing material that tells them how they should be, how they should look, how they should think, how they should dress, how they should behave.  Material found on TV, in magazines, in the movies, on the internet.  Material that usually indirectly sets a standard that most, if not all, young people cannot reach.  This can be detrimental.  How many young people have not realized their full, individual potential because of a false sense of "how they should be?"  How has society lost out as a result?

There is some normalcy in an adolescent's search for identity and the answers to the question of "who am I?"  However, when everywhere a teen turns they see "perfection" in those they admire and then they look at themselves and see a lot of 'imperfection", it leads to uncertain feelings and negative thoughts of self.  It leads to a sense of feeling "not good enough".  It leads to pressure to be something other than what makes that individual happy.  It leads to preoccupation with doing things that will make others happy, thus leading to neglect of schoolwork, limited school success, lack of identity, poor relationships, family discord, disconnect with one's value and moral system.  It leads to feeling different as if one doesn't "fit in" with everyone else.

The lesson for young people is this:  In this world in which you live, there are always going to be people you see (movie stars, rappers, musicians, athletes, models) who are your age and SEEM as if they have perfect hair, perfect bodies, perfect skin, perfect wardrobes, perfect friends, perfect houses, perfect cars, perfect lives.  It is normal to want to experience what you "think" their life is like.  The happiness, good times, fancy clothes, money, wonderful family and friends.  However, it is imperative that young people realize that what they think of these people is a PERCEPTION, something that is not real.  A PERCEPTION is all it is.  A design to distract you from your greatness.  That perception in no way defines you.  It in no way is a measure of who you are OR who you can become.  Young people must remember that each and every individual has THEIR OWN unique set of gifts and talents.  There is no one in the world identical to you.  That is to be celebrated and built upon.  Love yourself and love all that is a part of you from your physical appearance to your intellect to your personality traits.  Who you are is determined by you.  Don't underestimate yourself and instead challenge yourself.  Challenge yourself to read more, to study more, to help more, to do more.  Trust your sense of right and wrong.  Don't be afraid to be different.  It's okay to not follow the crowd.  It's okay to not be the most popular person in school.  It's okay to be the quiet person in the class.  It's okay to not be the most muscular person or the skinniest person in class.  It's okay to not have a boyfriend or girlfriend.  It's okay to not spend Friday and Saturday nite at the popular hangout.  It's okay to reject those things that can lead to trouble:  drugs, alcohol, sex.  It's okay to be you and to feel good about it.  Understand that "who you are" is a work-in-progress, a work that will constantly evolve throughout your life.  Talk to your parents or an adult you trust and know will give love, support, guidance.  Write them a letter.  Let them know who you are, your likes, your dislikes, your feelings about the world in which you live and the people in it.

Life is full of surprises and excitement.  Figuring out the answers to the question of "who am I?" is part of the surprise and excitement.  Approach it with enthusiasm, embrace the journey, stay the course.  Adolescence is an uncertain time, yet a short period of time in life.  When you are finished and reach acceptance of self, the face of Rihanna, the body of Beyonce, the height of Ciara or anything about anyone else will not matter.  It won't matter because you took the time and developed the courage to find out "who am I?" and you probably like the answer.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Power of the Game

"Don't hate the player, hate the game".  A phrase that one of my students happily used when discussing and justifying his participation in a "misunderstanding" with several female peers.  I believe that most young people get an ego boost when using, while most adults, such as myself, probably cringe when hearing this often-used phrase.  As I sat listening to him I wondered out loud if he understood ANYTHING about "the game".

The game.  What is "the game"?  Different people have different answers.  It could mean that compilation of the popular sports.  Sports such as football, basketball, baseball and hockey.  Huge, multi-million dollar stadiums and arenas are built for the game.   Schools suspend classes early for the game.  Young people stay after school and come back on weekends for the game.  Young people choose schools and colleges for the game.  Sunday afternoons in the fall, weeknites in the winter and Saturday afternoons in the spring and summer are scheduled for the game.  Celebrities, athletes and other high-profile individuals get glammed up and blinged out for the game.  Newspapers dedicate separate sections for the game.  Advertisers spend unimaginable money for the game.  Many workplaces become havens for athletic wear on certain days for the game.  Backyard bbq's become much more fun for the game.  While all this is true, I believe "the game" is much more.  It is that thing that is held in very high esteem and part of the fabric of American society and culture.  The real "game" for young people is figuring out and executing what is necessary to establish a firm foothold on life, to make something of yourself, to leave that imprint for others to follow.   

Here is the lesson:  The power and importance of "the game" should not be misunderstood or underestimated, ESPECIALLY by young people.  If you understand the game, you understand the ingredients needed to mix together to produce a well-paved path for success.  The ingredients of strength to approach everyday with a new perspective, courage to try something new, fail and try again, endurance to stay on the climb upward, intelligence to seek assistance when needed, humility to honor your God-given gifts and talents, desire and dedication to never give up, belief that with practice, you can be among perfection, willingness to change and the compassion to want to reach back and help others.  Football players who possess the ingredients win super bowls, baseball players win world series, basketball players win NBA and WNBA titles, hockey players win stanley cup trophies, gymnasists, swimmers and skaters win gold medals.  Young people who possess the ingredients graduate from high school, further their education, create careers, build families, make positive contributions to society, leave legacies for other young people to emulate and build upon.   

So the next time you happen to be one of those who quickly jumps on "the game" bandwagon, think about and remember what "the game" entails.  How you master "the game" will be a blueprint for the structure of your life.  The work, the energy, the commitment, the dedication.  All is critical in the game of life.  All are needed to navigate the many waves, bumps, hurdles and turbulence that life can and will bring.  Be good at recognizing your talents.  Be good at acknowledging your weaknesses and persevere to overcome them.  Be good at understanding you can't change the past, but you can determine the future.  Be good at designing a strategy for success in the classroom, for it will transcend into your existence in the world.  Be good at drafting honest, committed people who will support, encourage and mentor you during the good and bad times.  Be good at helping someone who has a hard time at something that comes easy to you.  Be good at challenging yourself to always do better and to look for ways to be better.  Be good at remembering the values and morals learned growing up.  Be good at respecting others and the differences of others.  BE GOOD AT THE GAME!!!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Skipping Out and Missing Out

Today I attempted to meet with a student who has been absent many days since the start of school.  The start of school which began a mere three weeks ago.  Skipping school.  For some young people, it seems like a rite of passage, something "harmless" you do on occasion with your friends, something that in some schools is an organized, unofficial day called SENIOR SKIP DAY in which the seniors and a few underclassmen always find it acceptable to participate.  An opportunity to "get over" on your parents and teachers and rebell against a school rule and test the limits set for you.  Some stay home, gather at a friend's house unsupervised, visit a neighboring school, hang out at the mall or venture to a nearby town or community.  Rarely, if ever, does SENIOR SKIP DAY involve books, studying or going to the library. 

For others, skipping school is a sign of something more serious, something that in most cases needs and requires the attention of an adult.  I have known students who skip school because they feel sad or even depressed, they are fearful of being around their peers, they feel intimidated in the classroom, especially if they just can't seem to understand the teacher, they are being harassed by one or more peers, they feel isolated and/or different, they have no money for lunch or new clothes, they have to care for younger siblings or a sick parent, they have to care for a child of their own, they have to seek and maintain employment, or they have no means of transportation to school.

The school attendance rate at many schools hovers around 75-80%.  Where are the rest of the children and what are they doing?  How much learning is lost when children don't come to school?  Where are the adults in their lives and do they condone school absence?   Just a few of many questions to ask to begin to solve the problem of school attendance.

I don't yet know why my student is missing so many days.  However, the lesson for young people follows.  If you or somebody you know is experiencing any of the above or something similar, seek the help of a parent, teacher, counselor, adminstrator or other caring adult.  You are not alone and things are never as bad as they seem.  Your education is probably one of, if not, the most determinant factor in your personal success.  Don't waste or squander it.  AND DON'T UNDERESTIMATE YOUR POTENTIAL.  If you can dream it, then you can do it.  Most young people are used to hearing, "get a good education, so you can get a good job".  While true, I find that to be a small part of the story.  Education, once obtained, can never be lost.  It cannot be given away or stolen.  It can be enlightening, comforting, inspiring.  It will challenge your imagination, motivate your thinking, spark your creativity.  It knows no boundaries, no limits.  It provides an avenue for giving and receiving information.  Information that will help you become more conscious, aware and interested in the world in which you live, all the people which live in it and an appreciation and understanding of the similarities which bond us as humans.  Information that will help you feel better about you. 

Education is its own rite of passage and opportunity.  Passage to life and the world.  Passage to discovering all of the talents you possess and the tools to use in sharing those talents with others.  Opportunity to achieve more than those before you, to set the stage for those after you.  Without education, that doctor can't heal, that lawyer can't defend, that architect can't design, that writer can't write, that pilot can't fly, that stylist can't style, that player can't read plays, that president can't lead, that social worker can't transform lives, and that teacher can't teach.  

So the next time you decide to skip school, take a moment to think and remind your friends that if you skip school, then you skip out on education, that thing that is timeless and priceless.  In thirty years, no one will remember what you did on SENIOR SKIP DAY or why you weren't in school, but they will remember what "cool" things you did with your education.  Remember, you control your future, no matter your story, and getting an education is a good start.  Just ask those who skipped school.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

To Be or Not To Be

HIGH SCHOOL.  A frightening place for many young people.  I talk with 9th, 10th, 11th and 12th graders everyday and am surprised at how unsure, insecure and uncomfortable many students are at the prospect of new, unfamiliar experiences and pending graduations.  These somewhat normal feelings coupled with the strong desire to "fit in" usually leads to the question:  to be a follower or not to be a follower.  Which one are you?  At your 25th class reunion, what will your classmates remember about you?

It's important for young people to realize that high school is scary for just about everybody.  It's okay to feel a little nervous or uneasy about this unknown world that you've heard so much about and probably couldn't wait to start.  You are not the only one who is or has been fearful of getting lost finding your way to a new class, struggling to understand your schedule, remember your locker combination, changing in front of unfamiliar faces for gym class, having the "right" clothes, having to stand in front of your class and introduce yourself and say at least one interesting thing about yourself, or walking down a hallway of upperclassmen and "hoping" no one says something to you. 

It's no question that high school is a culture onto itself.  A place where you realize that you are finally "almost" an adult, a place where you can make lifelong friends and memories, find a sport you really love, discover your passion for science, love of math or fascination with english literature.  A place where you experience homecoming, hay rides, sadie hawkins, yearbook parties, sweet sixteen, spring dance, prom.  A place where you experience more homework than ever, research projects, group projects, essays, oral presentations, PSAT, SAT, college tours, detention.  A place where you can't wait to leave, yet cry uncontrollably at senior farewell and graduation.  A place where you wonder, "do all these adults really care about my education"  and "do I really have what it takes to succeed in life"?  The answer to those questions is YES!!!!  Teachers care about your education and work really hard everyday planning meaningful, interesting and enlightening lessons that challenge your thinking, motivate good behavior and spark your creativity and imagination. 

As you get up everyday and scramble to make it to homeroom on time, will you be the trailblazer or leader, the person who starts a new student-run organization, forms a student council with specific focus on issues relevant to young people, forms a book club, math team, science experiment or community service project, advocates for increased funding, teacher supports and better parent involvement.  OR will you be that other type of person, the follower, one who will undoubtedly look back in life and wish desperately for an opportunity to relive this once-in-a-lifetime experience. 

HIGH SCHOOL.  A time to learn, explore, create, develop, organize, produce and construct, all while under the careful watch and supervsion of caring adults.  No matter your personal history, this is the time to believe in yourself, recognize your talents, make an imprint, build a foundation rooted in honesty and hard work, establish a legacy.  I challenge you TO BE the leader, that one that others will talk about EVERY year and not just at the reunion where you have to wear a yearbook photo for others to recognize you. 

Best wishes for this school year and in your trailblazing journey!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Those "Other" People

In the last 24 hours there has been a lot of talk about Kanye West, his behavior at the VMA awards and his behavior "in general".  I had an opportunity to see a part of his interview last nite with Jay Leno.  I'm not going to pass judgement regarding the "incident" in question or on Kanye, mainly because I do not know him and nor do I know what life is like for him.  However, something during the interview caught my attention.  When asked what he thought his mother would say to him regarding his behavior, Kanye became noticeably silent, almost melancholy.  His posture and demeanor changed in front of the audience.  To me, he seemed to "have checked out" of reality for a few brief moments.  I immediately wondered if he was having flashbacks to times spent with his mother and things he wished he could have done with her and said to her.  To me, that was extremely telling and I began to wonder how life has been for him since the passing of his mother, an individual who by all accounts was a significant, influential figure in his child and adult life as well as his professional life. 

The lesson, not media speculation, for young people, especially adolescents, is this:  Your parents, although they may annoy you in some way EVERYDAY and don't seem to live in your "reality", actually DO have your best interests at heart.  My experiences have taught me that deep down most adolescents believe this about their parents.  Your parents, mother and father, are here to guide and support you, not let you get away with whatever you want and teach you the boundaries, rules and norms that will prepare you to navigate the big world that awaits you.  Your relationship with your mother or father may "look" different than your relationship with your other parent, but both are EQUALLY important.  Try to remember that your parents are not going to be with you forever.  Unfortunately, sometimes tragic things happen and you don't want to have to figure out how to live with a bunch of regrets about things you wish you had done differently. 

Love, appreciate and respect them now when you have the opportunity.  Try to spend as much time with them as possible and invite them, from time-to-time into your world.  Your world of friends, your world of music, your world of sports, your world of fun.  Believe me when I tell you that they will appreciate it.  Instead of sending that extra text, phone message or email to your friends, send a note of thanks and love to your parents, not just on birthdays or major holidays.  Parents need to hear expressions of love from you as much as you need to hear it from them.  Those signs or affirmations that they are doing a good job will be well received.  Let them see what makes you happy and let them see that all the things they have been teaching you really hasn't fallen on deaf ears. 

Hard as it may be, try to remember that parenting is an IMPERFECT and LEARNED process, usually as you go along.  If you do all of this and are fortunate enough to be able to experience your parent in a different way when you are older, you will find that you have become a better individual, one grateful for the sacrifice, love and guidance of your parents.  Again, I don't know Kanye West, but judging by his response to Jay's question, he would probably give up everything for an opportunity to spend more time with his parent.

Good luck and don't forget to hug your parent or parents today. 

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Missing Dad

This past week I was having a talk with a student who told me that he didn't like his father much.  His high school career can easily be described as one of many ups and downs with many periods of seriousness and aloofness.  As a response to my surprise he added that he NEVER liked his father much.  When young people tell me about their feelings, I always ask questions and one of those questions is always "why".  He told me that his father puts on a show pretending to care when around others but never does much for him and never really comes around.  His father has never encouraged him in school, has never helped with homework, has never encouraged him in sports, has not talked to him about "picking the right girl", has not had "THE SEX" talk with him, has not shown him how to tie a tie, has not shown him how to shave or cut his hair, has not watched the NBA Finals, NFL Super Bowl or World Series with him, and has not taken him out on outings or trips to ball games.  This student who is close to the adult age matter-of-factly told me that he's been figuring life out for himself and that he doesn't need or want his father.

The subject of "parental absence" has been a hot topic, particularly since our President made note of it in his Father's Day message.  As I think about this subject, I think about countless stories, told by countless teens who have no daily, consistent interaction or relationship with their fathers.  This dynamic has created a lot of anger.  What is the impact?  I don't know if anyone knows the total depth of the impact but I do know that angry teens become angry adults.

I am not a parent myself, but rather than feed or enable the anger, I try to give young people a different perspective to consider.  It certainly doesn't ease the pain but may increase understanding which I believe leads to resolution.  In my years of working with parents, I cannot recall meeting a parent who intentionally wished ill-will, hurt or harm on their children.  Parents don't wake up in the morning, look in the mirror and plan how they can mess up their child's life.  What they do is tell me this:  parenting is a tough, sometimes thankless job.  It comes with no manual and in many cases, comes unexpectedly.  It's a full-time job with no vacation time or sick leave.   It's demanding and always evolving.  It produces anxiety, stress, frustration, happiness and unbelievable joy.  Most agree that they weren't prepared mentally or financially for the responsiblity and were afraid they couldn't be a good parent.  They also tell me parenting is something they would do again, without hesitation.

As a person who believes that individuals control their life direction and not to undermine the importance of parental presence, I say this to young people:  no parent is perfect, whether present or absent from your life.  Your life's direction DOES NOT have to be determined by whether or not your parent, particularly your father, has been present in your life.  Parents come in all packages from that special teacher, to your little league coach or scout leader, to the youth minister at your church, to the neighbor next door.  Take the gift that God has bestowed upon you (a mind filled with unimaginable creativity to dream, make choices and decisions) to soar and achieve beyond expectation.  Life awaits your imprint, your trail, your vision.  Dream long and dream big.  Never give up and never limit yourself.  Never tell yourself "I can't" and never accept "I can't".  Never succomb to what others may label you and never label yourself.  I await your positive contributions to the world.